REECE Webb-Foster almost rewrote the City history books when he came on at MK Dons last season.

Just 16 at the time, the striker’s sub appearance in the Capital One Cup made him one of the youngest debutants since club records began.

Injuries meant he shared the bench that night with three youth-team colleagues but Phil Parkinson stressed afterwards that Webb-Foster’s opportunity should “send out a message” that City will try to push their youngsters through.

The lack of results from the Valley Parade production line has been a recurring theme down the years. Brief first-team cameos from youngsters are too often viewed as tokenism as so few make the grade.

But within the club there are signs of a welcome change. The improving standard lower down the ladder is borne out by the decision to hand out four pro contracts this time.

Head of academy coaching Steve Thornber said: “It’s not a case of taking a token first year on and saying the academy are doing okay.

“We don’t want that. We don’t want to be in a position where the likes of Louie Swain didn’t progress due to not playing games.

“They are four genuine lads who deserve this.”

The relaunch of a reserve/development team for next season should aid the transition for the four trainees stepping up – Dylan Mottley-Henry, Joe Brennan, James King and Sam Wright.

Webb-Foster, with two sub outings under his belt, is still a year away as he prepares for his second season in the under-18s. He is likely to “dip in and out” of development games but his turn will come.

Of the four senior rookies, speedy winger Mottley-Henry has also had a brief taste of the big time when he stepped out in front of Valley Parade’s biggest crowd of the campaign against Preston on Easter Monday.

Thornber said: “He’s earned his contract because of his pace. He’s got a lot to learn away from that with his movement but he’s blessed with that natural talent.

“Dylan is still very young. He’s only two or three weeks off being a second-year apprentice next year.

“He’s got a lot of developing to do. He’s a bit like Omar Daley because his final ball needs to be better at times but he’s exciting on his day.”

Central midfielder Wright joined the first team on last year’s Ireland tour – and effectively earned his contract on that, according to Thornber.

He added: “The feedback from the manager was that he was one of our better players in the games over there.

“Sam hit a bit of a sticky patch halfway through the season where he didn’t really develop. He didn’t go out anywhere on loan and there was no development games.

“He was playing in the under-18s where he was outstanding. He was an eight or nine out of ten every week but he wasn’t being pushed enough. That’s what he needed.

“But we know what he can do from the pre-season programme in Ireland.

“There are loads of players in the Football League who cover ground, can win the ball and pass it. He’s a worker like that and covers every blade of grass.”

Centre half King, who Thornber likens in style to a youthful Alan Hanson, benefited from a spell with Whitby, where he earned rave reviews from former City duo Darren Williams and Lee Bullock.

Unfortunately a back injury cut his season short by three months but Thornber sees real potential in the gangly teen.

He said: “James is a ball-playing centre half who’s still growing into his body. But he reads the game so well.

“We’ve got to really look after James; maybe not so much for next year but the one after.

“Will he be an Andrew Davies type next year playing in the first team? I doubt it. But this development year will be really good for him.

“He needs to develop the aggressive side of his game but nothing fazes him. We’ve got big hopes.”

Striker Brennan was the most unexpected name to be given a deal. But after a petulant red card in the FA Youth Cup against Barnsley, he responded with a strong loan spell with Ossett.

“He has come from nowhere really,” admitted Thornber. “Joe had a very quiet first year developing but he’s just shot up since Christmas.

“Ossett did him good, playing well in men’s football, and he’s trained with the first team and not looked out of place. The staff think he deserved a development year.”